Losing one's virginity is a pivotal moment in many young (and sometimes less young) people’s lives. Because we place so much cultural value on sex—and because many of us receive terrible, inaccurate information about it (thanks, abstinence-only education!)—it can make for some awkward, painful, or just plain bad first experiences.
We're here to help. Below, you’ll find answers to some of the many questions we wish we knew when we were younger, as well as address some of the biggest, most damaging myths about the V-card.
For starters, when many straight people think about losing their virginity, they tend to think of penis-in-vagina sex. This, of course, leaves limited room for all the other ways we have sex and physically connect with each other—and also means that, by that standard, a lot of queer people would be considered “virgins,” no matter how much oral, anal, or other kinds of sex they’ve enjoyed.
While this guide will focus on the “how-to” for penis-in-vagina intercourse, there are lots and lots of ways to “have sex,” all of them valid, and all of them varied, depending on how you view sex and pleasure. For guides on other sexy acts, like scissoring, check out my How to Sex columns, but many of the pointers here apply to doing any kind of sex act for the first time as well.
The concept of “losing” one’s virginity is also a misnomer. You aren’t losing anything. You are connecting and sharing something with another person, so really we should say we are gaining. That said, here’s how to gain your virginity.
Prepping for your first time
This sounds obvious, but make sure that you and your partner both want to do this. It’s totally normal to be nervous and anxious about something you’ve never done before, but you should not feel dread or pressured or like you’re sacrificing any part of yourself. Also, you don’t have to be “in love” to want to have sex, but you do have to have respect and care for whoever you’re doin’ it with. If you don’t feel safe with a person, you probably shouldn’t be trusting them with your genitals/heart.
Even if you do think you’re 100 percent sure, know that you can back out at any time and change your mind at any point, even if that frustrates your partner (or yourself!). Listen to your body and instincts above all else—before, during, and after. If something’s off, they’ll tell you.
In terms of props, you’ll need some condoms, and if you’re the person with the penis, you should practice putting one on and taking it off beforehand. If you don’t know how and can’t ask anyone for advice, let YouTube be the sex ed teacher you never had. Practice in the dark after you’ve done some jumping jacks for extra adrenaline-pumping realism.
You should also acquire some lube—not just because lube is fun and turns sex into a Slip 'N Slide of awesome, but also because lubrication reduces friction, pain, and the chance that the condom will break or tear.
If there’s no sex shop near you or you can’t go into one because of dumb age restrictions—many in the U.S. require you to be 18 or older—remember that lube is also sold at drugstores like CVS or Walgreens, as well as places like Target and Walmart. Oil-based lubes degrade latex, so avoid those, because that’s what most condoms are made of. (Silicone lubes degrade silicone, so don’t use them on silicone sex toys, but they’re fine for other activities.)
Other prep that is not needed, but can be nice: things that make you feel cozy and relaxed. For instance, soft lighting, mood music, candles, water (hydration is important), and a towel or two—because sex is messy. and no one wants to sleep in the wet spot.
"Foreplay" is a deceptive term because it implies that it’s something you do before the “real” action begins. This can include making out and hugging, massage, manual sex (fingering/hand jobs), oral sex, mutual masturbation, and so on.
Most people need some or all of these activities to make intercourse enjoyable, however—before, during, and sometimes after the deed itself. So think of “foreplay” not as before-play, but just as play, and engage in it wildly and often.
When you and your partner feel aroused enough for penetration, put on the condom and apply a generous amount of lube to the outside of the condom, around the clit, and inside the vagina—even if the vagina is wet already. There’s no such thing as too much lube, and you may need to keep reapplying during the act itself. This is fine and normal!
You may need to use a hand to slide apart the labia in order to get to the vaginal opening. Don’t worry about accidentally penetrating the urethra (the pee hole)—it’s too small for that—but do be mindful about accidentally penetrating the anus (the butthole), which is nearby (and can hurt like a motherfucker if entered without warning or lubrication). It may be helpful to keep a light on for this reason.
For ease, you may want to stick to one or two positions your first time. Missionary (the person with the penis on top) is standard, but I recommend that the person with the vulva be on top because it allows them to control the depth, speed, and angle of penetration. (Plus, the view is better.) Because the inserting partner is more likely to experience pain than the non-inserting partner, letting them be in control will reduce that risk.
Throughout this process, don’t be shy about speaking up, changing positions or activities, or taking breaks if something becomes too much or too painful or if you simply want to stop. Sex doesn’t have to be this uninterrupted thing. You can stop and start and stop again! You can have snack breaks! You can go to the bathroom! You can laugh! Remember that it’s supposed to be fun, so don’t get caught up in taking yourself too seriously.
The ins and outs of penis-in-vagina sex
When you’re ready for penis-in-vagina sex or penetration, start slowly at first—with just the tip of the penis resting inside the vagina. See how that feels. If that’s okay, you can go a little further in. If it hurts, try adding more lube. Going slowly has the added bonus of building anticipation and can be really hot in and of itself. (See my How to Sex on edging once you’ve mastered the basics of sex.) As you play around with going a little deeper and a little faster, talk to each other about what you’re feeling—the goal is for both of you to feel excellent! So if something is uncomfortable or painful, speak up and be patient with each other. Sex is a lifelong exploration and you’re just getting started. It’s not going to be perfect right out the gate.
Will it hurt?
Intercourse shouldn’t be painful, but a lot of people (particularly those with vulvas) say their first few times hurt. If you do experience pain or bleeding, it might be because the hymen (a thin membrane near the vaginal opening) hasn’t worn away that much yet and may have stretched during penetration. Typically the hymen wears down as we age from physical activities, masturbation, or even just hormonal changes. A very common misconception is that the hymen is a kind of barrier that “breaks” during intercourse and causes bleeding. That’s not true.
If you do experience bleeding during sex, it’s most likely not the hymen at all, but a result of not being relaxed or aroused or lubricated enough, or having a partner that’s a little too zealous or rough. That said, there are a very small percentage of hymen owners whose hymens are resistant to wearing away, and this may require a doctor’s attention. If that’s you, then it may also be hard or impossible to insert a finger or a tampon, let alone a penis.
Will I orgasm the first time?
You may cum and you may not. It’s totally normal to not cum the first few times you have sex (or at all; only 25 percent of people with vaginas reliably climax from intercourse alone). It’s great if you orgasm, but don’t put an expectation on yourself to do so, because that may make you feel pressured and stressed, which in turn makes it that much harder to cum.
Remember that if one or both of you doesn’t cum, that’s okay! You don’t have to fake it. It doesn’t mean the sex was “bad,” or that you’ve failed or that your partner won’t like you anymore. In a similar vein, penis owners, particularly if they are young, may orgasm very quickly or early on in the proceedings. This is also okay! It happens. It also doesn’t have to mean the sex is “over”—if your partner wants to keep going, do other things that don’t involve a penis in a vagina. See the foreplay section above for ideas.
What happens after sex?
Once you’ve done the sex, you may find that you need some aftercare—things like cuddling, talking, letting each other know how you’re feeling, or even being alone for a bit. Of course, if one of you wants to cuddle and the other wants to be alone, you may have to compromise a little. You should also both get into the habit of peeing after sex, as it flushes any bacteria that may be near the urethral opening and so reduces the chances of getting a UTI (urinary tract infection).
Emotionally, you may be feeling a great variety of things—excitement, joy, worry, closeness, sadness, sleepiness, hunger, or even meh. Because we build up intercourse as this BIG IMPORTANT THING when, sometimes, it doesn’t blow our minds or profoundly change us, we can feel pretty underwhelmed. This is all normal. Intercourse is nice, but it doesn’t change who you are as a person. You’re still you, with all of your glorious parts and contradictions and joys and worries and uniqueness.
Remember that your first time is merely that: one time. There will be many, many other opportunities to figure out what you like, what feels good, what feels terrible, and so on. Put another way: We don’t get behind the wheel of a car and automatically know how to drive. That all takes time—and practice. Sex is a lifelong exploration, so buckle up and enjoy the ride.
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This article was updated for clarity on July 20, 2022..